Words by Marcel Dagenais
“Hey motherfucker! We’re going to kick your ass!”
This was the first thing I heard before being shoved up against the wall and handcuffed by two undercover cops while I was standing outside Heather’s bar in the East Village. They seemed to appear out of nowhere as I tagged “workingclassmag.com” on a single brick on a wall covered in graffiti.
I arrived about an hour prior to the launch party for Working Class Magazine’s “Free Issue” on East 13th Street. I set up for the party inside, leaving neat little stacks of ‘zines on tables, plastering images and posters on the walls and getting ready for the influx of people to celebrate another successful release.
In the middle of all this, my buddy Jason, the first guest to arrive, asked if I wanted to go outside to smoke a cigarette before the rush of party-goers came and swept me away.
I still don’t really know what came over me. I am not one to go around the streets tagging my website link, but for some reason I was feeling the Working Class love and feeling the need to share it. I probably should have taken a better look around before I started scribbling on the wall, but unfortunately for me, I didn’t. Not that I would have noticed a couple of plain-clothes officers ready to spring on a misdemeanor. Sure enough, right as I finished the “M” two big brutes rushed me, threatening to beat my ass and barricaded me against the brick wall I had just “violated”.
It’s a surreal moment when you find yourself in the middle of a compromising situation that you’ve only imagined others would be in. I suppose we all feel invincible, or invisible, in New York from time to time. Little do we know that Big Brother is always watching. I consider myself to be a law-abiding citizen. I’ve never been arrested before. Sure I’ll smoke a joint now and again; but I’m not out killing, raping or stealing. So when I was thrown into the back of an unmarked car and looking out at my friends staring blankly at me with shocked expressions, I knew I was in trouble. They were taking me to the 9th Precinct and eventually downtown to throw my ass in jail. It felt like I was in a weird dream, or a nightmare.
After my mug shot, I was searched and forced to give up all my personal belongings. I was then transferred into a holding cell with nine mean, macho-looking men who stared me down as I heard them lock the gates behind me. One of my fellow inmates muttered, “Good luck tonight, white boy,” as a knot the size of a watermelon formed in my stomach. I’m fucked, I thought. Not knowing what was going on, what was in store for the night, or when I would see the freedom of a New York street again, I sat on the floor and put my head in my knees attempting to look tough and quiet, hoping that nobody would try to make me their bitch.
Almost two hours later my arresting officer told me he was taking me down to Central. I had no idea what or where that was; and just like the moment when I first came face to face with him, I was dreading what was to come.
I have never smelled a smell as putrid as the one I encountered walking down this endless hallway of jail cells. They were overflowing with the kinds of men that you would not want to come across on a dark, lonely street; and if you did, you could bet your ass you would be leaving that encounter without your wallet.
The handcuffs felt like they were getting tighter as I walked into my second Working Class-inspired photo shoot of the night. It was my “official” mug shot picture, like the ones you see on the news of convicted felons, or Lindsay Lohan. The lights were so blinding I had no idea when they were taking the photo or who was in the room. It made it nearly impossible not to look guilty of something; I was dazed and confused, to say the least.
After being lead through endless corridors and stairwells, my arresting officer and I arrived at a desk where I was given a box of corn flakes and some milk and finally put in my cold, grey-green cell with two other men. The only thing left to do was try to get some sleep, so I lied across the slippery metal bench that lined the walls of the odd-shaped, ten-by-fifteen foot room and passed out.
I was woken up by another round of inmates coming in the cell. I don’t know how many, but it sounded like a herd of them. I didn’t even bother to look up.
“Hey man, do you want your cereal?” a raspy voice asked me. I looked up to find a bum who seemed more than pleased to be off the cold streets of the city for a night.
“Have it,” I said.
I looked around and saw a bunch of guys huddled on the bench trying to sleep under the fluorescent lighting.
What the fuck am I doing here?
It was loud. I heard voices from the other cell across from mine. There were at least 25 guys in there talking. It was like a reunion among friends, back in the clink together. I couldn’t help but listen since there was no chance of peaceful sleep.
I had absolutely no concept of time because all natural light is completely sealed out of the jail, but from the looks of officers scurrying around I could tell that it was morning. The inmates were saying that the courthouse officially opened and now we just had to wait until our name was called. I still had no idea what to expect so hearing that something was happening—that names would be called, possibly linked with the idea of being released—gave me some kind of optimism. I was so fucking cold! I had no jacket on when I stepped out for that quick cig at the party, and my thin flannel was meager protection against the cold of the metal bench. A chill sank into my entire upper body. Not cute.
“What are you in for?” one of the guys asked me.
“Graffiti,” I said.
“You’ll be out of here by 5 PM for sure. Is this your first time? Oh yeah, that’s a misdemeanor so you’ll definitely be outta here today.”
Those words were like a shining beacon of hope, if he didn’t look like so mean, I would have hugged the guy. But that feeling of relief quickly dissipated when I got on the phone with a lawyer and discovered they were charging me with Disorderly Conduct in the Third Degree.
“Really?” That level of crime is equivalent to someone who attempted to steal a car; and it wasn’t a misdemeanor, it was a felony. I was being charged with a felony and I was tripping balls; I wanted out of this jail and out of trouble. My only option was to get this lawyer to take my case, make some calls, expedite my paper work and get me the hell out of here. All she needed to do that was $600. Shit.
“It’s $600,” my friend who found the lawyer told me, “I know it’s a lot, but she said she can definitely get you out. What do you want me to tell her?”
I didn’t have the money; but I was willing to do next to anything to make sure I didn’t have to spend another night in the tombs. The things you learn in life.
“Yes. Do it. I have to get out of here.”
I had to take a shit. Like for real, cramping stomach, touching cotton, turtle-head have to go. There was only one toilet and it was completely out in the open, but when life leaves you no options sometimes you just have to say “fuck it” and poop in front of twenty dudes.
I was starting to go a little stir crazy. After awhile the guys in here seemed pretty cool, as far as conversation goes, and I no longer felt like I was going to get harassed. But sitting in the same place for any amount of time is not good for the psyche, and I found myself counting the boxes in between bars on the two surrounding walls. For some reason I kept losing count at 33 and starting the whole process over again. I was starting to worry that my mind was going.
I found out my lawyer and my savior, a.k.a. Megan, were court-bound to get me out of here. My hearing is at 5 PM. For now, just like before, all I can do is wait.
The minutes were going by like hours. I tried meditating, sleeping, shitting, but at this point I was internally freaked out. I couldn’t imagine being stuck in this cell for months or years. Suicide would seem like a viable option.
My name was finally called. I was practically standing in front of them by the time the officer finished saying ‘Dagenais’. I was locked in shackles in a line of about nine guys. The time had come, it was almost over.
By 6 PM I was a free man. My friend Megan saved me that day when I was completely helpless. We went and sat in Tompkins Square Park and I felt a freedom I had never felt before. It made me realize that within that freedom there are consequences to every action.
After the whole thing was said and done, from being arrested to going to court with my lawyer, I ended up spending a lot of money that I could have used for something amazing. That’s how life goes, I suppose. I used to live a life that didn’t worry too much about the law.
I wanted to do this issue so I could discuss with the contributing artists what they considered an outlaw.
I hope you enjoy our interpretations.